Memories of Oktoberfest in Munich

Oktoberfest 2017 in Munich is about to begin (September 16-October 3)!  Its name belies the fact that most of the big annual beer festival occurs in September, with only a few days in October near the end.

Anyone lucky enough to be staying in Munich during those two weeks and four days must have made hotel arrangements many months in advance and paid through the nose.  Rates over Oktoberfest skyrocket.

What is the draw?  Think of Oktoberfest as the state fair of Bavaria (“Bayern” in German), but one focused on consuming oceans of beer and rivers of wine, punctuated by Bavarian favorite foods of wurst, pretzels, roast chicken, and pickled herring sandwiches.  It’s a true bacchanal!

While working in the US-European student charter flight business in 1975 and 1976, I lived in Munich.  I loved München!  The vibrant and cultured city stands out as a jewel among all the places I’ve been, and my memories of Oktoberfest are some of the happiest and most vivid of my life.

In 1975 I had a pretty good Minolta SLR. It was always loaded with Kodak slide film which I used to take pictures of that Oktoberfest.  The slide film was slow (meaning it required a lot of light), and since most of the Oktoberfest action takes place after dark, my nighttime photos are blurry. But you can definitely get the idea of the wild, happy mood.  The first four pictures below are in the Hofbräuhaus Festhalle at night when the band is playing, and everyone is laughing and singing.





The next several photos were taken during the day of the Oktoberfest grounds.  The festival is held at Theresienwiese, a park in Munich just four blocks from where I lived in Munich in 1975-76. Theresienwiese is often used for such Munich events, including the lesser-known Frühlingsfest (Spring Fest), which features delicious bock beer.






The final picture is of the crowds at night taken from the second floor balcony of the Hofbräuhaus Festhalle.  Even blurred, it’s easy to grasp the energy of the festival.


The gigantic beer halls (Festhalle) for each of the beer brewers at Oktoberfest are temporary, constructed at Theresienwiese and then taken down after the fest is over every year by the “big six” Munich beer breweries (Hofbräu, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Augustinerbräu, and Paulaner—see here).  It is a great spectacle with (in my opinion) the world’s greatest lagers poured in copious quantities every day and night.

People get knee-walking drunk there with impunity and try to steal the huge glass beer steins used at Oktoberfest.  This affords law enforcement types wishing to perfect their skull-cracking skills a unique legal opportunity. In 1975, I saw Bavarian police beat the stuffing out of many a would-be thief trying to make off with a souvenir.  In my many observations, it was often a very inebriated Aussie absconding with a beer stein who got the brunt of the Polizei battons.  Having forfeited reason to alcohol, they always tried to fight back rather than to meekly crumple.

One of the great Clouseau/Pink Panther movies—some of the funniest films of all time in my book—took the bumbling French inspector to Oktoberfest looking for a bad guy in Munich. The scene filmed there is actually very accurate in feel as well as being hilarious.

Oktoberfest is a madhouse for two weeks, attracting six million visitors each year from all over the world.  That makes it an attractive target for terrorists, and German officials have been increasingly concerned in recent years over the threat of terrorism at the festival (among many, see this article).

Nonetheless, Oktoberfest should be on everyone’s bucket list.  I recommend booking hotel accommodation a year ahead and traveling into and out of Munich by train from another City to avoid higher airfares. There are literally hundreds of Oktoberfest videos offering advice on what to do and not do there, so many that I couldn’t find one that seemed optimal, though I enjoyed this one. Note her advice to go early to get in and to avoid the Hofbräuhaus Festhalle after one obligatory visit.  Personally, my favorite Munich beer is Spaten, but with such great lagers it’s a hard to choose a best one.

In closing, here is some Oktoberfest music to put you in the right mood . Hokey?  Maybe, but great fun! Go with it, and it will make you happy!


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